On 5E's Eighth Gammaversary, I Reminisce on Identity
I view the color of my skin in a literal form, detaching it from society’s conception of how people should be represented.
Mami often told me that as a child I would say, “I’m black, why would my baby doll be white?” Now that I’m an adult, I reminisce on that small moment of clarity wishing I could see the memory more vividly. What was I thinking as an eight-year-old person to recognize such a distinction? What inside of me confirmed the blackness? I also assumed that the world saw me the way I saw myself. However, this is not so. I was aware of my mother’s Puerto Rican-ness and also of my father’s Haitian-ness. Their languages are loud. I view the color of my skin in a literal form, detaching it from society’s conception of how people should be represented. The color of my skin is in the brown/black family; this is not negotiable. The Puerto Rican-ness and Haitian-ness, for me, symbolize culture. Culture is understood as patterns and traditions. Culture has nothing to do with complexion. Yes: some geographical locations have higher demographics of a certain skin color but this does not mean a person of a different skin color can’t learn of their ways. It takes one generation for the shift. Language, which is a pattern attached to culture, is a learned habit.
These questions of mine led to a small scavenger hunt. I asked a black man whose culture is Haitian, if he saw me as a black woman. He said no. I asked two black women of separate cultures if they viewed me as a black woman, they said no. I asked a brown woman of Dominican culture if she viewed me as a black woman, she said yes. I asked a white woman of Dominican culture how she saw me, she said mixed. I asked a black woman of Trinidadian culture if she viewed herself as black, she said she does not view the world divided in black and white. If, she continued, someone saw the world with the need to divide it between the two colors, then yes, she's brown/black. Each perspective was a product of the individual's grown environment and community. I started to feel more curiosity brewing: how do people see themselves? I see myself as this: a black woman who was born in America from a mother who was born in Puerto Rico and a father who is from Haiti. I am a woman who was transferred a set of patterns, traditions, ways of speech, movement and expression. Swag, if you will. The foundation of my personality, ways of thinking and navigating is credited to these two cultures and America.
I have an individual right to be black, Puerto Rican, Haitian and American simultaneously. Black first because I believe the pigment in my genes was decided on another plane; Puerto Rican second because "my mother was my first country. The first place I ever lived"; Haitian because the motherland needed his nutritions to farm and American last because of default geographical location.
This is not negotiable.